GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Two former NFL stars now coaching Florida high school football players joined with the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) today to oppose legislation that would invite wholesale free agency for high school athletes and undermine the proud history of Florida interscholastic sports. The legislation would make it possible for win-at-all-costs coaches to recruit high school athletes across school lines while giving ineligible athletes the opportunity to tie up the system and continue playing.
Former Tampa Bay Bucs All-Pro fullback Mike Alstott and former University of Florida and Bucs receiver Reidel Anthony joined FHSAA Executive Director Roger Dearing in criticizing two bills – Senate Bill 1164 and House Bill 1279 – that attack the fundamental principles of youth sports in Florida. Alstott is now head coach at Northside Christian High School in St. Petersburg and Anthony is offensive coordinator at his alma mater, Glades Central High School in Belle Glade. As members of the FHSAA, both schools follow the same rules that have worked successfully for schools throughout Florida.
“The FHSAA continues to stand for fair competition. The changes these bills propose would undermine sportsmanship and shatter community spirit by allowing some high schools to become recruiting-frenzied sports giants while others are left to fall by the wayside,” Dearing said. “Our kids deserve to grow up playing sports in an environment that promotes fairness, teamwork and playing by the rules.“
The proposed legislation would allow students to change high schools in order to play for a different team as long as they meet the academic and athletic requirements of that school. Before the FHSAA can suspend a student or coach for violating rules, including those prohibiting recruiting and regulating high school athletic transfers, the association must obtain a final order from the state Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH), a process that can take months or even years to complete. Meanwhile, the coach or player in question would remain active, effectively rendering the FHSAA powerless to enforce its rules while suspension cases pile up in a bureaucratic morass.
“There is a place for free agency; it’s called the NFL. And there is a place for recruiting; it’s called college. There is NO place for either of those in high school football,” said Alstott, a six-time All-Pro running back. “My concern is that the legislation will make it okay for coaches to recruit and players to shop around for the best offer – and it will remove the FHSAA’s ability to stop these terrible practices.”
The legislation would also substantially limit the ability of the FHSAA to produce state championship events by severely cutting the funds it uses to cover travel expenses and awards for participating schools. Dearing corrected two common misconceptions about the FHSAA, noting that the organization is a private, non-for-profit organization that does not receive government funding and that the organization does not initiate investigations but only responds when it receives complaints from concerned citizens.
The FHSAA has provided constant leadership and sports regulation for almost a century, and now oversees almost 260,000 student-athletes in 32 different sports for boys and girls. Recruitment has long been one of the FHSAA’s biggest challenges. The FHSAA’s goal when investigating alleged recruitment violations is fairness to the athletes and affected schools as it strives to preserve community spirit and the integrity of Florida’s high school athletics.
High school athletic recruiting and trading could be fully realized if SB 1164 and HB 1279 are allowed to pass. Competing schools could target star athletes coming up from middle school to create athletic powerhouses that would ruin local rivalries and smother hometown pride. It would also allow for potentially ineligible high school athletes to continue playing during an appeal, even after a determination of ineligibility has already been made.
“The last thing these kids need is a process that invites open recruiting of high school athletes. It’s hard enough for top players to keep a level head when the colleges come calling – it will be almost impossible for younger kids to resist that attention from other high schools,” said Anthony, who spent five seasons with the Bucs. “The idea that a kid could live in one part of town, play football for a school in another part of town, and then transfer to play basketball at an entirely different school, is not what high school sports is supposed to be all about.”
Dearing said the legislation would eliminate the FHSAA’s ability to enforce rules across the board and to penalize athletes and coaches who try to circumvent bans on recruiting and other provisions. “Under changes that favor coaches and boosters who approach sports with a obsessive mentality, it’s the student-athletes who will ultimately suffer,” he said.